A Trip to the Miyar Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
On the 13th of August we started our trip to India. About 18 hours of the "most comfortable airplane seats" and a few hours of waiting in between we made it to our first destination…Delhi, India.
At 8:57 pm we finally crossed the mandatory customs and immigration police, crossed the gates and boom, our first surprise, no one to pick us up.
We loaded up and got into the mini bus taxi, which smelled like incense and cigarettes, the perfect combo after a long ass flight. The driver Ali, a guy of about 25 years of old was very exited to see us and definitely tried to drive us as fast as possible through the streets of Delhi. He thought that’s what we wanted, but we definitely preferred to avoid accidents.
We arrived to our hotel, The Smily Inn…. ummmm a “five star” the hole in the wall. Located in an obscure and dark alley in the middle of the crazy market were the natives had been doing their deed against the walls and in the street along with the cows roaming free in the middle of the road and feeding off the early morning newspaper.
We negotiated our stay and got into our room. Actually, not too bad it had AC and cable TV, a little dirty but what the hell. We were spent from our travel and our jet lag.
The next day we went on our recon trip along the market. … ummm is my favorite word on this trip, As soon as we stepped into the street we almost got run over by a rickshaw that was trying to miss the cow standing in the middle of the road. It was then that, we realized that also in India people become easy targets and pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chainlist.
Overwhelmed by the heat, the humidity and the traffic in the market we went back to the “hotel” and rested for the rest of the day trying to recuperate from the jet lag.
In the morning we got prepared and assaulted the market again, this time with the purpose of finding our bus ticket to get to our destination, Manali.
Manali is a small town located on the northern part of India in the mouth of the Himalaya, Himachal. After running around in circles… literally… we decided to hire the service that our hotel provided.
The next day we returned to the market to shop for new clothes that would help us feel a little closer to the culture and hopefully allow us to get less ripped off when buying goods from the locals.
In the afternoon we finally checked out of our “fancy 5 star hotel” and hired a rickshaw to take our expedition bags to the bus station. To our surprise the bus was really nice, with space for your legs, nice comfortable seats and one crazy driver that was going to drive the whole way pulling off an all-nighter.
18 hours…. Its not over yet… at that point the driver had to pull over because everyone from the Indian team were barfing their guts out…oughhh oughhh was all we could hear in back of the bus…. ummmm disturbing when it sounds like a chorus from all the people gagging at the same time.
22 hours later… we couldn’t feel our asses any more, our legs swollen like elephant stumps and almost sick from the crazy driving and the barfing team, w… We made it to Manali. Immediately after getting off the bus we were swarmed by all the people trying to sell us their hotel rooms. With no reservation, four huge duffel bags and backpacks we decided to go with the nicest guy. Five minutes after arriving we were already negotiating our room in the hotel’s lobby.
After setting up our room and loading all of our gear into our third floor room we decided to hit the town and start looking for an outfitter that could provide us with the service we needed at a decent price. We walked from New Manali to Old Manali and back looking for someone, but it was more difficult than expected.
Finally we found the guy who provided services for an American expedition that had visited the Miyar Valley the previous year.
Ravi was a savy business man with a smile on his face all the time. We felt really comfortable with his price, and his offer, so we went with him. We organized for transportation to Miyar Nala and a cook for a 32- day trip into the Valley.
The next day we met our cook, a very nice man, about 50 years of old and a veteran cook for trips into the mountains. Tocshand, a native of the Miyar region, is not only the perfect cook but also the person that was going to orient us along the way. We knew there were no trails, and the maps were very disorienting and confusing maps in this barely explored Himalayan Valley.
Part of the deal was that Tocshand would lead us into the market to purchase all the food and provisions for the expedition. We went store to store looking for our pots, stove, utensils, gas, food and vegetables. It was a very exhausting, but definitely not as long as for the porters who helped us carry all the stuff back to the hotel.
We purchased some aluminum boxes specially made for these kinds of trips and packed all of our stuff in them. A little overwhelmed by all the things we had purchased, we settled into our room and finally enjoyed some chilling out time before starting our 9 hour jeep ride to the mouth of the Miyar.
Fortunately, in the middle of all this craziness, rain, and humidity that never seemed to stop, we managed to put in some climbing in the local crag named Aleo. Aleo offers awesome jungle climbing with bolts placed very, very far apart.
Our plan was to spend 32 days climbing and exploring, and hopefully not too much time waiting for the weather windows to arrive. We planned to set up our base camp at the mouth of the Thunder Glacier and our main objective is to climb the first American ascent of the Never Seen Tower of Peak 5,800 and hopefully make many more first ascents on the virgin peaks surrounding this majestic and beautiful area.
After a very long jeep ride over the Rhotang Pass we arrived in Urgos, where we would begin our three-day trek into the Miyar Valley after spending the night on a helicopter-landing pad. Our cook, Tucshand, had arranged for the horses and horseman to meet us in the morning. Following some endless negotiations of prices and time, we packed up our 9 underweight, bony horses with gear and food to last one month and set off. The first day we had hiked only a few hours over bridges and through fields of green grass following the paths that shepherds use to move their countless numbers of goats and sheep. Here the horseman stopped and absolutely refused to continue. They unpacked the horses and started in on their supply of Arak, a locally made whiskey. We were anxious to get to base camp so we begged and pleaded to keep moving. With little success we set up our tent among the cows and yaks we shared the area with.
The next day we awoke to sunny blue skies, some hung-over horseman, and a yak at our front door. We packed up and started on day two, hoping to make it quite a bit further before having to call it a day. Along our way we bought a black sheep that we picked out of the hundreds surrounding us. We tied our sheep named "Dolly" onto one of the horses and kept moving to our second camp where Tucshand would make some "Dolly curry." On day three we arrived at our base camp. A beautiful flat, green grassy area with a spring flowing right next to our site and the strong current of the Miyar River rushing past us. The location was perfect – right between the Nameless Valley and the Tawa Valley, the two locations where we wanted to do most of our climbing and exploration. We quickly set up our kitchen tent (a tarp and two poles) as well as our brand new Nemo Moki tent. This was to be our home for the next month.
When we arrived at base camp. We were the only climbers there except for a Russian team camped farther up towards the Miyar glacier, near the Jangpar Valley. We were able to enjoy the solitude only for a few days as we rested and organized gear. Then the first team of Italians arrived, bringing a few horses and a team of three, more climbers and a cook, Tensing, who would turn out to be a friend we will never forget. Closely following was another group of Italians, bringing 22 horses, 12 team members, cooks, generators, computers, sat phones and all of the other modern luxuries. A few days later, Team Korea arrived, which was similar in size and technology, and in addition brought a large assortment of freeze-dried sardines and green tea. With two huge expeditions on either side of us we realized we were not alone on this alpine adventure.
We hauled our first load up the steep moraine to the base of Castle Peak. Castle Peak is a large formation close to base camp and it looked like a great peak to get our feel for the rock. The formation consists of three summits, Castle Peak being the main summit followed by Iris Peak, and followed by an unclimbed summit. We, of course, chose a route that we thought would lead to the unclimbed summit. With our gear at the base we went back down the 1000 meters of steep moraine to base camp. The next morning we took an unplanned rest day only to have the weather turn in the afternoon anyway. Two days of rain and snow followed before the blue skies returned, allowing us to return to Castle Peak.
We started up our new route not knowing what was to come. After completing the first two pitches of run-out death climbing, our toes cold beyond the level of pain, we decided to bail. After a somewhat epic retreat of not having anything to rap off or anywhere to place gear, we made it. Relieved to be safely back on the ground, we decided this route was not one we wanted to try again and so we set off to find other possibilities on Castle Peak. Along the way, we ran into the three Italians, who had set up a high camp at the base. They two were also trying a new route to reach the unclimbed summit.
Roberto, the leader of their expedition, had opened several routes on Castle Peak over the past years. He had given the name to Castle Peak, as well as to Iris Peak, which he named after his wife who died in a motorcycle accident the past year. A stupa, or memorial, was placed on the summit with her ashes. He was back to live his dream of making first accents of all three summits. We could see the disappointment and fear in his eyes when he learned we were trying for the unclimbed summit also. With little thought at all, we decided the valley is so large and there are so many unclimbed peaks that we should find a different goal.
This was Roberto’s peak and we wanted him to have the summit. When we told the Italians about our decision, Roberto was very happy and gave us both a big hug. We hauled our gear back down the terrain and were content with the decisions we had made.
The weather took a big change for the next 12 days. Snow, hail, rain, you name it, it all happened. We resorted to our tent and only made the 10-foot trek to the kitchen for momos and tupka when necessary. We had been eyeing another peak in the Tawa Valley since our arrival also. We decided to go for this unclimbed peak with the next weather window. As soon as the weather let up a little, we hauled our load, this time bringing our Nemo Tenshi tent to set up a high camp, as this peak is farther into the valley then the previous attempted peak. As soon as we reached our desired location, a perfect flat area surrounded by large boulders and near the waterfall that would allow us to collect water, the dark clouds came rolling in.
We cashed our gear and quickly headed back down towards base camp. By the time we reached camp we were covered in snow and freezing. Tucshand greeted us with a warm cup of chai and we once again took shelter in our trusted Nemo tent. The next three days it stormed. Finally the weather broke again and we headed to our high camp. We knew it was our time. Arriving at the high camp in the early evening, we were able to scout out our line. From base camp we could only see a wide crack system on the south face leading onto a large ledge, and we did not know for sure if it would go. When we peered through the binoculars from our high camp we could see the system would indeed lead us to the ledge allowing us to traverse on to the main wall.
We awoke early and started towards the base. Arriving at the base, we started climbing around 9am. We followed a chimney system for four 70-meter rope lengths. Climbing was mostly 5.8ish with a 5.9 roof section on the 3rd pitch, being the crux of the climb. The chimney system led us to a ridge where we then climbed diagonally up three slabby 70m pitches towards the main wall. We found ourselves in a trough under the main wall allowing many options for reaching the summit. We chose a vertical line straight up the face exiting onto the summit through a small notch.
The main wall was five 70m pitches of 5.8 and 5.9 climbing with some loose rock, but overall good quality slab and face climbing. We arrived on the summit at 4 pm excited to have reached the top of our first peak here in the Miyar valley. Not knowing an exact descent, we didn’t waste much daylight before heading down. Luckily we were able to scramble all the way down the west face back to our high camp before dark. This peak we named Coni Peak (5,200 meters), and called our route Directisima, 5.9, (840m).
As we neared our base camp, we were pleasantly greeted by a liaison officer from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation who happened to be with the Korean team. He instantly asked us what we were doing here in the valley and if we had climbing permits. We had contacted the IMF before arriving in the valley so we knew the rules consisted of only needing a permit for peaks greater than 6,000m. We had heard of his blackmailing ways towards the other teams, : convincing them they needed a permit for all peaks no matter what their height and that they could pay him in exchange of him not reporting them. So we were prepared for his interrogation. Luckily, we had left our gear at our high camp and had nothing but small packs and trekking poles. "We are trekkers, of course," we told the officer, "no climbing, only looking." Not satisfied with our answer he began to question our cook in Hindi. Fortunately, Tucshand knew the deal and covered for us telling the L.O. we truly were only trekkers and we do "no risky, only looking". We were set. All we had to do was lay low and hide our gear, watch our words, and hope he would leave so we would not have to give him any undeserved money. The maps available from the IMF do not even show the peaks under 6,000m in the area so we knew he was only trying to make money.
After our climb, Camilo had a cough that worsened, so we went to see the Italian doctor that the large team had brought with them. Measuring his oxygen and listening to his lungs he determined him to have bronchitis and started him on antibiotics. For the next few days we rested and waited to see if the cough would pass. If not, we knew we might have to go down to a lower elevation for recuperation. Luckily after a few doses of antibiotics, Camilo’s energy returned and we were psyched to climb again. Also, to our good fortune, the liaison officer had retreated down the valley to the nearest town because of a "bad back" although there was a rumor of someone slipping him a pill that causes diarrhea.
Next we set off into the Nameless Valley hoping one peak would call us among the others and sure enough it did. Peak 5,800 had no record of being climbed before and with its long ridge and sheer face it stands proud among the other peaks in the valley. The peak is not far up the valley and we were feeling very acclimated by this point, so we decided to assault the ridge without a high camp.
Starting at 4am we left base camp crossed the cold, ice-covered river, arriving at the wall around 8am. We simul-climbed for approximately 800 meters, on the long 5.7- 5.8ish northwest ridge, moving as quickly as possible. We belayed two pitches of 5.9 near the upper section before unroping and scrambling low 5th class towards the summit. We arrived under a short snow couloir that led to the pre-summit and the traversed 100m of extremely loose rock to the main summit. We reached the summit around 5pm and it was the summit of all summits! The views were awesome allowing us to see into all three valleys and the countless amounts of spires surrounding us. We were happy as ever, but knew we had only made it half of the way, as we still needed to find a descent with only a few hours of daylight remaining.
We started down the west face, mostly scrambling and down-climbing over loose rock. We had thought we could possibly make it down the whole way to the valley floor this way, but we would be many miles away from camp. So instead we chose a different path that turned out to be somewhat epic. After down-climbing and scrambling for hundreds of meters we found ourselves in a large rock gully on the west face. The gully was full of huge loose boulders ready to give at any time and had huge drop-offs that seemed to arise without any notice as the darkness set in. At one point I had stepped on a large boulder that gave way under my feet. The huge boulder and I both went flying towards Camilo as he leapt out of the way, grabbing me in the process. We were soon exhausted and contemplating an open bivy, as the valley floor seemed farther and farther away.
We knew we had to get off the wall even if it was only to make it onto the moraine. At least we had the company of a full moon, and even though it did not help much inside the gully, it still was nice to know it was out there. We did 7-8 terrifying rappels off loose blocks, down-climbing over sketchy terrain before exiting the gully in one piece. We were exhausted beyond hallucination. We finished our decent down the steep moraine, crossed back over the icy river and down the huge boulders to our base camp where we arrived sometime after midnight. We named our route the Long Life Ridge, 5.9, (1,400m) on what we named Peak 5,800 (5,820m).
The days following our climb brought more bad weather. The Italian forecasting, which seemed to be right on most of the time, was not in our favor. With all the other teams retreating from their high camps to wait out the week-long predicted storm, we decided we should wrap it up and get out of the valley before the conditions worsened. After spending close to a month in the valley, we were ready to head back to Manali and enjoy the comforts of tandoori chicken and garlic naan. Tucshand called for the horses, we said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed out happy with our success.
We would like to thank every one who supports and follows our adventures
Camilo Lopez would like to thank his sponsors:
Anna Pfaff would like to thank her sponsors:
Camilo Lopez of Colombia and Anna Pfaff of Ohio have been living in Lyons, Colorado for the last few years and hope to make many more trips to the Himalaya. To see more photos from their trip visit: www.photobucket.com/miyarvalley